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“Leadership And The Politics Of Fear”: Obama Providing Exactly The Kind Of Leadership This Country Needs Right Now

Jeff Greenfield’s article titled: Getting the Politics of Fear Right got me thinking about what leadership means at a time like this. He acknowledges that following the Paris attacks, Donald Trump “went on a fear-mongering bender.” But then he finds President Obama’s response to be problematic as well.

Meanwhile President Obama has tacked sharply in the other direction, playing down the public’s anxiety, defiantly continuing to downgrade the possibility of an attack on the U.S. and the capabilities of Islamic State…Obama’s dismissiveness is no doubt one reason for Trump’s popularity; clearly many voters believe our current crop of leaders – starting with the president – have been too inattentive to their fears.

This is not an uncommon critique of President Obama. Way back in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Maureen Dowd led a chorus of people complaining about the fact that the President didn’t seem to feel our panic.

President Spock’s behavior is illogical.

Once more, he has willfully and inexplicably resisted fulfilling a signal part of his job: being a prism in moments of fear and pride, reflecting what Americans feel so they know he gets it.

So this is nothing new. We heard the same thing during the Ebola scare and every other crises we’ve faced over the last 7 years. It all makes me think about what it is we want in a leader.

I was reminded of a powerful diary written years ago by a blogger named Hamden Rice about the leadership of Martin Luther King. The parallels with our current situation eventually break down, but Rice pointed out that King emerged to lead African Americans during a time that they were experiencing the terrorism of Jim Crow.

But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.

He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south…

It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus…

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

And what was King’s response to that terror?

They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.

Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.

If we do it all together, we’ll be okay.

One has to wonder if folks like Greenfield and Dowd had been around back then, would they have complained that MLK was too inattentive to their fears?

When it comes to the current threat of terrorism, President Obama plays a very different role in this country than the one Dr. Martin Luther King did all those decades ago. But interestingly enough, yesterday his message sounded pretty similar.

What happened in Paris is truly horrific. I understand that people worry that something similar could happen here. I want you to know that we will continue to do everything in our power to defend our nation…

But it’s not just our security professionals who will defeat ISIL and other terrorist groups. As Americans, we all have a role to play in how we respond to threats. Groups like ISIL cannot defeat us on the battlefield, so they try to terrorize us at home – against soft targets, against civilians, against innocent people. Even as we’re vigilant, we cannot, and we will not, succumb to fear. Nor can we allow fear to divide us – for that’s how terrorists win. We cannot give them the victory of changing how we go about living our lives.

That is exactly the kind of leadership this country needs right now to combat the politics of fear.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 25, 2015

November 26, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“One Screwup After Another”: Shell’s Arctic Drilling Adventure Is A Disaster Waiting To Happen

This month may mark the end of a decade-long saga that’s highlighted the lengths to which oil companies will go to drill in the Arctic—and the huge risks such endeavors entail.

If everything goes according to plan, Royal Dutch Shell will soon bury its first drill bit into the Arctic seabed since 2012. The exploration project, which began in 2005, has faced numerous setbacks—logistical issues, expensive equipment repairs, regulatory hurdles, environmental challenges. To date, Shell has sunk more than $7 billion into this hunt for oil and natural gas, and even if successful, it won’t see anything resembling financial success for more than a decade. But if it hits the substantial deposit of oil it believes to be under the Chukchi Sea, the payoff could be enormous.

That’s because, in the next few decades, companies expect it will become harder to extract oil and gas from existing wells, and even the fracking boom may begin to deplete. The race is on to find untapped resources, with companies pushing further and further into harder-to-reach areas.

As the warming ocean and atmosphere has melted Arctic ice, companies have particularly eyed the Chukchi sea for its fossil fuels. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the wider region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13 percent of its oil. Shell purchased its first leases here nearly a decade ago, and it is determined to see a return on its investment.

Shell reached this stage once before, drilling two wells in 2012. But the trip was plagued with problems. At the time, Shell underestimated Arctic dangers and overestimated how much time it had before heavy ice and storms made travel dangerous. The New York Times chronicled the mishaps in a lengthy and dramatic article: One rig, the Noble Discoverer, appeared to ground before reaching the Chukchi that July. Shell’s voluntary spill containment was crushed. A rig caught fire. From there, it got worse: The lines attaching the old rig Shell used, the Kulluk, to towing boats broke, the rig ran aground, and the Coast Guard had to rescue the 18 men trapped aboard it. These setbacks have helped bolster environmentalists’ case that the Arctic is too dangerous to drill.

This time around, Shell has planned to drill two more wells. Two oil rigs, 29 ships and seven aircraft are currently making their way north—an even bigger fleet than the one the company assembled for its previous trip to the Chukchi. Shell says it has never been better prepared, insisting to the Wall Street Journal that the risks today are “negligible.”

Environmentalists certainly don’t feel that way. Before one of the two rigs even left its Seattle port in mid-June, about two-dozen activists took to the water in kayaks, in an attempt to block the rig from leaving port.

There have been other hurdles. Shell’s original plan was to use the two rigs to drill for oil simultaneously, nine miles apart. A backup rig is already required in the aftermath of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and Shell figured it would put it to good multitasking. The rigs would double the efficiency of the drilling operations and meet federal requirements in case of a blowout. In a win for environmentalists, however, federal regulators decided in June against Shell’s plans to speed things along, citing the harm simultaneous drilling could cause walruses.

And then, just last week, Shell found a 39-inch gash in its vessel, called the Fennica, which contains a crucial piece to cap a well in the case of a blowout. Shell has taken it to Portland for repairs, and says there’s no reason it will delay the start date for drilling in late July. “We do not anticipate any impact on our season, as we don’t expect to require the vessel until August,” a spokesperson for Shell told Joel Connelly. Greenpeace USA spokesperson Travis Nichols disagreed, saying the company can’t possibly begin work on schedule without the essential equipment.

Shell is still waiting for a final permit from the Department of Interior before it can begin drilling. Department spokesperson Jessica Kershaw said they are watching the situation closely. “We continue to review Shell’s proposal for drilling activity in the Chukchi Sea this summer,” Kershaw said. “As we’ve said from day one, Shell will be held to highest safety and environmental standards. This includes having on hand the required emergency response systems necessary for each phase of its drilling program.”

Even as a long-term prospect, Shell is years behind schedule as the problems add up. And it can’t afford another slow season this year. The company faces pressure to prove to investors it can deliver on its $7 billion bet. By 2017, the Times reported, Shell’s first leases will expire if it doesn’t begin producing oil a decade after it first acquired them.

“Everybody’s watching to see if we’re going to fail or succeed out there,” Ann Pickard, Shell’s Executive Vice President running its Arctic division, told the Wall Street Journal. “If we fail for whatever reason … I think the U.S. is another 25 years” away from developing Arctic resources.

So even minor delays this year—like an incident akin to 2012’s—could be devastating to Shell. Above all else, it faces natural challenges. The weather is fickle, sea ice doesn’t always melt on schedule, and there’s a limited window of a few months a year when the Arctic is calm enough to drill. Interior has given Shell a hard stop to drilling in late September.

Environmentalists say that this pressure is exactly what makes Shell prone to risky decisions. “The Fennica could have easily travelled along a much safer route instead of going over a shallow, rocky shoal in an area that to begin with is not well charted,” said Chris Krenz, Arctic campaign manager and senior scientist for Oceana, an ocean advocacy organization campaigning against Shell’s oil development, in a statement.

If Shell continues, environmentalists warn it’s only a matter of time before the next big disaster strikes. “I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have a ‘perfect season’ in the Arctic,” Nichols said. “The margin of error is so slim. Things that fly in the Gulf [of Mexico], even though they shouldn’t,” won’t in the Arctic “because conditions are so hard.”

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, July 15, 2015

July 16, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Environment, Royal Dutch Shell | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Responsibility We Cannot Escape”: Keystone Stalemate; Fix Decaying Pipelines First For Jobs, Health, And Safety

With the Keystone XL pipeline stalled again, now perhaps we can look ahead and consider more promising ways to rebuild our energy system, creating many more jobs than that controversial project ever would. No matter where we look, the far larger issue that still confronts Americans is decaying infrastructure — which emphatically includes the enormous web of oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the continental United States in every direction.

When TransCanada CEO Russ Girling touted Keystone as an engine of employment on ABC News’ This Week last Sunday, he insisted that its construction would create 42,000 jobs. Not only would his venture create those 42,000 “direct and indirect” jobs, boasted Girling, but those positions would be “ongoing and enduring” rather than temporary, like most construction jobs — citing a State Department study that drew no such conclusions. A company spokesman later tempered Girling’s pronouncements, more or less acknowledging that they were grossly exaggerated. The number of permanent jobs when construction is completed would top out at around 50. With or without Keystone, the national economy already produces about 42,000 jobs every week, so it just doesn’t matter much.

Yet even if Keystone would actually result in tens of thousands of permanent jobs, its expected impact on the environment, health and safety raised grave questions about whether it should be permitted to proceed. But there are pipeline projects of unquestioned value that could create far more jobs for many more years that any of Keystone’s promoters ever contemplated.

Rather than a new pipeline for the dirtiest tar-sands fuel, what America needs is a commitment to repair the “leaks and seeps” that have made the old network of pipelines into a continuing danger to health and safety, air and water – as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted in a 2013 interview with The National Memo. The labor chief estimates that a serious program of repair to degraded oil and gas facilities would mean at least 125,000 jobs a year – three times as many as Keystone – and they would continue for decades.

In that brief remark, Trumka alluded to an important point: With more than 2.5 million miles of corroding underground pipes, often made of steel or cast iron laid decades ago, the likelihood of deadly and potentially catastrophic accidents increases every year. Fuel and fumes that escape old pipelines every day, along with occasional large spills of petroleum products, pour carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well.

Using pipelines to transport natural gas and hazardous liquid fuels is generally safer than the alternatives of road and rail, but when pipeline accidents happen, they can be devastating – as we have learned in recent years from the tragic explosions in San Bruno, CA, which killed eight people and razed dozens of homes, and in Allentown, PA, which killed five people and destroyed 50 buildings.

Officials in Michigan are concerned about the condition of 61 year-old pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet – and where, if the pipelines failed, a ruinous oil spill could conceivably leave the Great Lakes in the same ruinous condition as the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. And New York officials worry every day about the perilous state of the city’s gas mains, aging and decrepit, which exploded in East Harlem last March, killing and injuring dozens of people and causing millions in property damage.

An investigation by reporters at Pro Publica, the nonprofit news service, revealed that over the past three decades, pipeline accidents accounted for more than 500 deaths, over 4,000 injuries, and almost $7 billion in property damage – numbers that will swell in the years ahead unless repairs and inspections are stepped up drastically. At the moment, replacing only the most dangerously corroded pipes in New York’s Con Edison system is estimated to require $10 billion and 30 years of construction.

The upside of this looming threat is that confronting it would create hundreds of thousands of permanent, well-paid jobs while preserving the environment and improving public safety and health. Like so much of the incredible infrastructure left to us by previous generations, the pipelines need to be maintained, modernized, or mothballed for the sake of the future. Politicians and their paymasters may prefer to look the other way, but it is a responsibility we cannot escape.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, November 19, 2014

November 20, 2014 Posted by | Big Oil, Jobs, Keystone XL | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stop Bashing The CDC”: Government Is The Enemy Until You Need A Friend

After a rough start dealing with America’s first Ebola cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appear to be getting the problem under control. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be more incidents; a health care worker was diagnosed with the virus in New York yesterday after returning from West Africa. But the CDC now seems better able to control secondary infections, particularly among health care workers, who are at the greatest risk.

As the 21-day incubation period lapses without new infections in Texas, dozens of people are being cleared from the watch list. But Ebola lingers as a reminder of how easily safety organizations can weaken and what we must do to keep them effective.

“Government is the enemy until you need a friend,” said former Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Government organizations like the CDC, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration exist mostly to be our friends when we need protection from harm.

Unfortunately safety organizations like these don’t get much love in between disasters. They get attacked by those who covet their budget. They get attacked by those who hate government in general. They get attacked by corporations that don’t want to spend the money to comply with regulation. And they face political pressure to paper over potential problems that could embarrass some elected official. It’s hard to retain talent under conditions like that.

When we don’t take care of our safety organizations and don’t listen to them, they atrophy. Then disasters happen, and whoever is on watch ducks the blame. The person on watch always uses words like “Nobody could have foreseen …” For example: “Nobody could have foreseen” that the Army Corps’ levees in New Orleans would crumble during Hurricane Katrina. “Nobody could have foreseen” that terrorists might hijack an airplane and fly it into a building on 9/11. “Nobody could have foreseen” that dismantling Glass-Steagall Act protections would lead banks to gamble with taxpayer-guaranteed deposits. Not true. In most cases, agency staff anticipated the problem and tried to warn their bosses, but the boss didn’t pay attention because it was politically inconvenient or too expensive.

Frankly it’s a wonder that our safety agencies work as well as they do. The CDC is a case in point; they got many things right after their original poor response:

  • They quickly acknowledged that procedures were not working.
  • They didn’t circle the wagons. They listened to international medical organizations that had more experience in handling Ebola in the field.
  • They rapidly rolled out new procedures and equipment for protecting staff and training people in the proper use of the equipment.
  • Without succumbing to hysteria and political pressure, they updated travel regulations to ve rify the health of travelers from Africa while allowing essential aid workers to move unimpeded.

CDC did not do what so many agencies and private sector entities do in similar situations: Deny the problem, conceal data, refuse to change and retaliate against critics. The CDC responded and recovered more quickly than most. For example, they responded even more quickly than the U.S. Army did in giving our troops adequate protection against improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

Whatever the mistakes of government safety organizations, private sector safety organizations – the ones that exist inside corporations – are often much, much worse. Halliburton Co. and their contractors undercut internal safety processes in the prelude to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and four years later, they’re still fighting over who’s to blame. American International Group Inc.’s internal risk-management processes failed dismally in the subprime mortgage crisis, and rather than accept responsibility, they’re still arguing over the terms of the taxpayer bailout that saved them from bankruptcy.

Fast recovery is perhaps the best we can realistically ask of any safety organization, public or private, which faces infrequent, catastrophic risks. If we want these organizations to do the job, we need to treat them right. We need to give them the budget they need to conduct drills and stay sharp. We need to give them professional leadership and not put political appointees in charge. And we need to drop the hypocrisy of treating them as the enemy in between those rare but inevitable moments when we need them to save us. Far from failing, the CDC performed well under the circumstances. We won’t always be so lucky.

 

By: David Brodwin, Economic Intelligence, U. S, News and World Report, October 24, 2014

 

October 29, 2014 Posted by | CDC, Ebola, Federal Government | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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